How Consolidated Barber Shop reimagined their business during the shutdown

After closing down for three months due to the stay-home order, Michigan barber shops and salons reopened on June 15 per Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order. For Zac Minock, owner of Consolidated Barber Shop, the shutdown was a chance to completely reimagine his business.

“I don’t think anyone ever would have thought it would be a three-month thing, you know? That’s crazy,” says Minock. “The first couple of weeks, it was cool. As it progressed, you started to wonder if things will be the same. How long does it take for the business side of it to bounce back to pre-COVID numbers? Then looking at other states to see protocols and requirements, that gave me something to do every day.” 

Consolidated Barber Shop has been operating in downtown Flint since 2012 and is located in the basement of Consolidated Tattoo, at 107 W Kearsley St. Minock, the ever-busy barber, has a reputation of a packed waiting room with their first-come-first-serve way of operating. The shutdown changed everything.

“I had to do the online booking stuff, get the website built, get the masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant ordered. It was kind of like you were preparing as much as you can, but we didn’t even know what we were preparing for. I could’ve bought all of that stuff and not needed it, you know?” Minock says.

Just like their initial construction in 2012, the barbershop took the new precautions seriously and made the necessary changes to safely reopen. Minock spent $900 on supplies out of pocket, and an additional $2,000 on redoing their stairwell, which was already planned pre-COVID-19.

“A lot of shops say, ‘When you get here, call us and we’ll let you in.’ But being downtown, you can end up parking five blocks away,” says Minock. “That’s why we put waiting chairs in our stairwell so they can be technically out of the shop, but on the premise. The stairwell kind of acts like our parking lot, in a sense.”

The other supplies ordered were eight gallons of hand sanitizer, 1,500 masks to give customers, extra barbasol to soak combs, and more 70% isopropyl alcohol since supplies were running low through their distributor. Plastic dividers were put up between barbers and an air purification system was installed that kills 99.98% of germs, which runs every night after the shop closes. Only the barbers and their respective customers are allowed in the room together.

“Let’s say you test positive for COVID-19, right? The State would get a hold of me, I would give them my appointment book for that day, then they would have to get a hold of all of those customers. So maybe the idea of that was to know who came into the shop, and not just who got a haircut?”

Consolidated Barber Shop has been operating in downtown Flint since 2012.

Another new factor for barbers is learning to cut their clients’ hair while they are wearing a mask.

“That first one was like writing something down with your opposite hand. It was so fumbly, goofy, and awkward,” says Minock. “We bought those behind the ear clip things people have been wearing, and working around the mask is easy now. It’s no big deal. It’s not an inconvenience or anything.”

Now that they’re back taking appointments, rather than walk-ins, Minock and Gatz have been booked consistently. They just aren’t sure how long it will last.

“I don’t know what we were doing prior to this, but I do know that now we’re way more streamlined and organized,” says Minock about the amount of haircuts booked per day. “It’s got to be pretty close. Both of us were booked solid for the first three weeks. I think I’m booked out for two more weeks, and Andy [Gatz, his co-worker] is at about 60% this week. We’re staying pretty booked, which is awesome.”

During the first shutdown, Minock applied for several loans and didn’t get them, but he and Gatz, received unemployment to get by. To pay for a month of the shop’s rent, they launched a webstore with a new Consolidated Barber Shop T-shirt. The support from their following was overwhelming and they were able to sell $1,500 worth of merchandise to pay for over two months’ rent, and use what was left in the shop account to cover the rest for June.

“The shirt sales were crazy and we got a lot of support,” says Minock. “I’m very surprised and thankful that it went as well as it did. We did it just to get by for April. The fact that we could do it for three months? That’s crazy.” 

In addition to financial support, plenty of friends, family, and past clients reached out to the barber, offering assistance during the shutdown.

“People would get a hold of me during the shutdown and say, ‘I feel so sorry for you. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.’ Then I would tell them, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me. If I don’t touch my comb for three months, it’s not going to expire.’ Imagine being a bar or restaurant getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day — canceled. All of these major holidays call for things in that place with a shelf life. Being in a bar restaurant would be way crazier than what I went through. I just had to wait it out.”

Outside of raising funds for himself and the shop, as well as preparing to reopen, Minock considered their shutdown a “forced vacation” after working nearly every day since he was 14 years old.

“During the shutdown I rode over 2,000 miles on my bike and I watched an embarrassing amount of The King Of Queens. I’ve probably watched that show two or three times, which is a lot of The King Of Queens. All during the shutdown. I volunteered a couple of times at Cycle Fit in Fenton just to do something. It was good to kind of disconnect and really just be lazy for once in forever.”

With all of the good that came with their reimagining, Minock is still realistic about the state of things in his industry during COVID-19.

“Oh, we’re getting shut down again. 100%,” says Minock. “It’ll probably be like reliving March all over again. But we have all of this stuff set in place, so if we get shut down, we’ll just turn the booking off on the website, wait for that opening date, then re-engage like we did three weeks ago. I think a second shutdown is inevitable. We haven’t really flattened the first curve.”

To learn more about Consolidated Barber Shop go to their website.

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Read more articles by Jonathan Diener.

Jonathan Diener is a world-traveling musician, comic writer, and freelance journalist having written for Vice, Alternative Press and The Hard Times. His charitable endeavors include the music compilation Not Safe To Drink: Music For Flint Water Crisis Relief, and HOPE: A Comic For Flint. Diener dedicates his time to staying creative and helping the Vehicle City whenever he can.